During the past few weeks, the words “Reformation” and “Luther” actually made the mainstream headlines. That doesn’t happen very often! Stories of both history and hope for the future church were perhaps lost by some in the chaos of the media. Yet it was encouraging to see a theologian from the 1500’s scrolling the news feed!
Martin Luther was a German professor of theology, a priest and a monk who 500 years ago stood up for a new way to understand how we encounter God. Luther strongly opposed certain Catholic views. In short, Luther taught that salvation and eternal life are not earned by good deeds and could not be purchased through indulgences. Instead, salvation is a free gift of God’s grace through faith.
Luther believed that the Bible should be read and studied in the home – not only by priests. His translation of the Bible into German and the new technology of the printing press reformed how the average person could understand their Christian faith. (Luther was also adamant that a new, reformed church not be named after him. Clearly this request was ignored.)
Luther publicly invited an academic discussion on his theological understanding through the 95-Theses released in 1517. Through continued sermons and writings, Luther got in a lot of trouble for his bold position. This ultimately led to his own excommunication and condemnation by church and state. It is important to note that Luther was not perfect – his writings later in life were arguably anti-semitic. We as a church continue to study his theology, recognizing that Luther, much like each of us, was not perfect.
Luther had passion, he had life experience, and his ideas resonated with the average person. Plus, his message was one of the first to be mass-produced. Luther and his colleagues reformed the message of God’s Church. As we recognize the anniversary of Luther’s reformation, we seek to better understand the theological foundation of our church. We also recognize the impact one person might have in spreading the good news of God’s love.
My kids have been exposed to Luther in new ways – skits, inflatable figures, action toys, and even coloring sheets – a far more engaging message than I heard in my own youth! (For years I carried only the vision of a grumpy old man who wrote long passages I was forced to memorize!) I wonder how my children will perceive this church leader, and how that may project to their own leadership.
Imagine if Luther had a forum like a blog or Facebook to share his thoughts? What would he say? Would his words have as much impact as they did 500 years ago? If Luther stood before the Lutheran church – or the North American Christian church as a whole – what would he say?
As we consider these questions, we realize that in the context of our current world, we and the church are reformed yet always reforming. We constantly seek God at work in our world. So, what words might I use to proclaim truth through faith in a voice as lasting as Luther’s? Which words are impactful, which words speak truth, which words might be spread and heard by many?
As a church, we MUST find ways to communicate the Good News of Christ and the hope found through a Creator overflowing with grace and redeeming love. We pray our voices and actions will echo through generations to come!